Monday, 21 May 2018

Book Review 4 : The Sea of Poppies, by Amitav Ghosh

A Review. 



Talwa jharaile
Kawal kumhlaile
Hanse roye
Biraha biyog

The pond is dry
The Lotus withered
The Swan weeps
For its absent love

Kaise kate ab
Biraha ki raitya?

How will  it pass
This night of parting?
                     (Page 415)

Reading a book that was shortlisted for a Booker Prize has its own share of perils and thrills. One concedes to the fact that one is in for an emotional roller-coaster ride of largely unexplored territory as far as events or characters are concerned. And this one does not disappoint the reader on either counts.
This is Book 1 of the trilogy, all of a whopping 533 pages of fine print. This is my first book by Amitav Ghosh, so I didn’t know what to expect.  Perhaps that’s a good thing, because I turned each page with increasing awe. But then, owing to my past experiences with offerings of Booker Prize winners, I knew enough to expect only the unexpected.
The first thing that struck me was the writing style. Unapologetically ‘Indianised’ is what comes to mind when you turn the pages. Ghosh has a liberal sprinkle of Indian words, including the desi slang of various regions of India that form the backdrop of the characters. The Indianized form of English spoken by the British makes for amusing and entertaining reading.
Although Ghosh makes the minimal effort to accommodate the non-Hindi speaking readers, they are nevertheless left to wonder and figure out what all those desi terms are supposed to mean. The lingo of the seamen, as well as the accent, across different strata of society is articulated to the minutest detail.
The rich customs & cultural traditions of Northern and North Eastern India are brought alive in delightful songs. The Bhojpuri lyrics add a vibrant touch of nostalgia and colour to the predominant emotions felt by the characters and captures the intrinsic role of music in the various rituals of India.
The angst of the local populace, across all strata of society, trapped within the colonial imperialism of the British is palpable and heart-rending.The heartbreaking toil of labourers in the opium factory owned by the British, the rampant child-labour where children were ruthlessly employed in highly dangerous and pitiable conditions, tugs at the heartstrings more than once.
Ghosh is adept at the art of bringing visualizations alive, be it the slave ship, ‘Ibis’ or the mighty Ganges. To most Indians who are accustomed to the holy river being a symbol of divine purity of Hindu Mythology or a polluted entity of Modern India, Ghosh shows the reader the green beauty of Sunderbans delta of the Ganga. And while the reader is still basking in the perceived wonder, the pages progress to the 'Black-water', that sends shivers up the spine. The grim foreboding of the characters as the ship traverses from the Hoogly (a tributary) into the dark water of the vast bay, is bound to leave goosebumps on an unaccustomed reader’s skin.
There is not a single emotion that goes unexplored in this book. And this exploration is in no means subtle or kind to the weak-hearted reader. Harsh realities hit the characters with the surety of a sledgehammer in the gut, even as the reader hopes against hope for a miraculous postponement or even a respite from the inevitable fate that awaits them, at each turn of the page.
Spanning from motherhood to the heart-wrenching angst of separation from her child, to the the sexual curiosity of a conjugally deprived woman; the glorious highs offered by Opium to the desperate withdrawal from a near-fatal addiction; the downfall and consequent redemption, that transpires in a shockingly lurid fashion, of a landlord from the arrogant promiscuity offered by affluence to the pitiable reduction to a defrauded convict; the  sheer daring deeds of action of previously subservient women trapped in a misogynist world… the novel has it all, and then some.
And as most historical books do, the pages reassert the fact that despite the century old change in the India of 1800s and that of today, the challenges faced by women have not changed, although their conditions have somewhat improved.
Once again, here is a book that showcases that love transcends even the worst possible borders walls and borders erected by society, even as one still wonders of it is indeed love, or sense of protective instinct towards a helpless woman that propels a low-caste man to risk his own life to save a widow from certain death.
The most thrilling scene in the book is the one in which the low-caste worker Kalua rescues the main protagonist Deeti from certain death. A huge man wielding a spinning wheel of his cart as a formidable weapon while he grabs a woman from the sati pyre makes for an electrifying read. The articulation is brought to life in a manner which is no less exhilarating than an action packed climax of a Bollywood blockbuster. Except that, unlike in the climax of a film, the runaway couple flee from the frying pan right into the fire…
Lucid descriptive prose, with explicit lingo of sailors in generous dosages of Hindi dialect, allows the readers to live each scene of action. The depiction of life on a ship, sailor’s woes and the challenges of raging storms allow reader to live the fear and tumult of life at sea. 
Despite the large number of characters, the awe-inspiring or foreboding personality traits of every single one of them is communicated with clarity that proceeds as a delicious revelation from page to page. Added to this is a vibrant range of cultural, religious and language nuances make this novel a pot-pouri of delightful phenomena.


***
The Key Characters:

There are perhaps times when the reader is annoyed by the number of characters in the story. One is reminded of Agatha Christie’s overload of characters, that were perhaps deliberately intrinsic, to sustain the confusion that forms the backbone of any murder mystery. The Sea of Poppies, however, has its own aura of suspense that relies on ‘what happens next?’ It takes a while for one to get used to recalling the individual quirks & traits of one too many a character. As the novel proceeds, each character is more of a revelation. Each of them does manage to make a real impact, having been given ample credibility and importance when the need arises in the storyline.
Deeti is the most interesting of them all. Although her ‘visions’ into the future hovers on supernatural, one soon realizes that her clairvoyant ability does not extend to allowing her to read into specific events in the future, but are rather limited to apparitions of vivid nature. Her ‘Shrine’ of her doodling expertise leaves the reader with a sense of insatiable mystery, that has no sight of resolution, at least not in the first book of this trilogy.
Kalua instills conflicting emotions of pity and pride in the reader; pity for his pathetic treatment as a low caste worker in an archaic society and pride at his twin strengths of body and mind. He makes the reader root for him till the very end, especially during his inhuman flogging and the final thrill of his brilliantly calculated murderous escape.
Paulette steals the heart as the sweet and charming French orphan, struggling to cope with the turn of events her botanist father’s death thrusts her with. Her reluctant submission to authority clubbed with wily manipulations with her foster guardians, the Burnhams, and then, the sheer courage, planning, cunning maneuvering and aplomb with which she pulls off her grand escape onto the Ibis is highly amusing.
Jodu, the playmate and confidante of Paulette, is also the son of her devoted nurse. He is the quintessential happy-go-lucky boy, who eventually pays the price of his nonchalant flirtations with the forbidden class of women. His deep brotherly bond & protective instincts towards Paulette are endearing.
Neel Rattan Halder, the rajah of Rakshali dynasty, evokes disdain at first, with his philandering and arrogant aristocracy, even as he is saddled by irrevocable debt.  He becomes a victim of devious colonization tactics and ends up in pathetic conditions as a convict. His eventual redemption of sorts, with his ministrations to his co-convict Ah-Fatt tugs at the heartstrings and endears him to the readers.
Zachary, the American sailor is a revelation, especially towards the end. Although he has come abroad the Ibis to escape from the drudgery of ruthless racism faced by a mulatto like himself, he surprises with his realism and candid bravery at the end of the novel. His attraction to Paulette provides a welcome light-heartedness amidst the serious circumstances of the story. His progression to become the second mate on the Ibis with the lascar chief Sarang Ali’s help, add  political flavor to the operations of the Ibis.
Nob Kissin Baboo, an administrator of Mr.Burnham, induces a mix of ridiculous humour at first, that then progresses to foreboding when his character is enveloped by a dark obsession. A vishnavite who is deeply in love with an older woman, who is long since dead, hallucinates her presence within himself and then comes to believe that Zachary is an reincarnation of Lord Krishna himself.

***
The Storyline:

The Ibis is a former slave ship of the 1800s, that has set sail from Calcutta to Mauritius. The story revolves around the lives of characters who reside on the banks of their lifeline, the Ganges, all of whom eventually end up on the labor ship .
There are two main criteria that forms the backdrop for the plot in the story.
The first one is that it is set during the time when the East India Company indulged in rampant opium trade between the Indian and Chinese borders.
The second criterion revolves around the slave trafficking that the British transported to the island of Mauritius, to labour in their sugar plantations.  
How fate conspires to fling them all together, as the crew of the Ibis on her first voyage across the Hoogly river and then into the ocean on her journey towards Mauritius, forms the crux of the story.

***
Deeti is cheated into a wedding with an impotent man and impregnated by more devious means of Opium drugging by her mother-in-law and brother-in-law. Kalua becomes her savior when she is almost consumed by the funeral pyre of her dead husband. They elope, only to be chased relentlessly by her husband’s family, and thus end up on board the Ibis.
        Jodu gains passage onto the Ibis as a lascar.  Unknown to him and Zachary, Paulette smuggles herself on board the Ibis in disguise, in a bid to escape sexual harassment from her guardian Mr.Burnham.
Neel is sentenced to prison on Mauritius for seven years, framed by the British in a forgery case and is sent on to the Ibis for penal transportation, along with another Cantonese convict, an opium addict called Ah Fatt, for whom Neel becomes the savior.
A host of twists in the plot ensures that each of the characters is subjected to a series of trials and tribulations, that result in brutal violence, unmasking of disguised crew, an attempted rape, a flogging, a couple of deaths and finally a daring midnight escape of some of the key characters towards Singapore.

***
The Conclusion:

As with all Winners or shortlisted Booker Books, this is one story that is bound to stay with you, long after you return the book to its owner or to your bookshelf. In my case, certain scenes in this book shall remain in my memory for many more years to come, if not forever.

***
Excerpts:

‘The British rule in India could not have been sustained without Opium – that is all there is to it, and let us not pretend otherwise. You are no doubt aware that in some years, the Company’s annual gains from Opium are almost equal to the entire revenue of your own country, the United States? Do you think British rule would have been possible in this impoverished land if it were not for this source of wealth?’

‘These ills you mention are merely aspects of the fallen nature of man. And would every member of the parliament bear the blame for every fatality should their efforts fail? The answer is no. No. Because the antidote for addiction lies not in bans erected by the Parliaments and emperors, but in individual conscience-in every man’s awareness of his personal responsibility and his fear of God.’

Suraj Dikhat Jawe toh Rasta mit jawe – When the sun rises the path will show itself - and so strongly did she believe this that not even at the worst of time did she allow her hopes to slacken.

‘Puggly...!’ Mrs. Burnham gasped, fanning herself with a pillow. ‘I must know the worst...Puggly, tell me the truth, I conjure you: There isn't a rootie in the choola, is there? Surely not..there isn't!’

‘Oh dear, dear Puggly!’ The BeeBee dabbed her streaming eyes and gave Paulette a pitying hug. ‘Of course you're furious! Those budzat sailors! With all their udlee-budlee you'd think they'd leave the larkins alone!’

‘Times change, Raja Neel Rattan,’ Mr.Burnham said. ‘And those who don’t change with them are swept away.’

 If the Black Water could really drown the past, then why should she, Deeti, still be hearing voices in the recesses of her head, condemning her for running away with Kalua?

‘The noise never failed to amaze him: the whiplash crack of the sails, the high pitched shriek of the wind in the rigging, the groan of the timbers and surf-like pounding of the bow-waves: it was as if each ship were a moving tempest and he, an eagle, circling close behind to hunt in the ruins of her wake.’


*****


Photo clicked by : ©Chethana

Short Story 19 : I've Got You.



Theme: Epistolary.

An Epistolary Story is written in the form of a series of documents. The usual form is letters, although dairy entries, or newspaper clippings are sometimes used. In recent times, emails and blog entries are used as well.
The Epistolary form can add greater realism to the story because it mimics the workings of real life and also demonstrates different points of view without recourse to the device of an omniscient narrator.
There are three types of Epistolary stories: Monologic (One narrator), dialogic (two narrators), or polylogic (with three or more letter writing characters).
A crucial element in Epistolary stories is the dramatic device of discrepant awareness i.e the simultaneous correspondences of the protagonists and antagonists creating dramatic tension.
I have chosen the monologic form of Epistolary in my story.

***

I’ve Got You.


 16th Febuary, 2017. 12.37 AM.

Dear Di,
I’m so excited, Di! He asked me out! Can you believe it? Ashish Verma…the Ashish Verma has asked me out!
Me! Plain ol’ Neha Pinto, can you imagine!
Oh God! I can barely believe it, Di, I am SOOO excited…
Well, lemme start from the beginning. U know that I have been crazy about him from day 1, right? So, I followed your advice and enrolled myself for the same aerobics class that he goes to…and yes, I even invested in the funky new wardrobe you had chosen for me…and guess what, I even lost weight with all that serious working out, bcz I didn’t wanna make it obvious to him that, you know, I was trying t get his attention…
And just like you suggested, I ignored him completely! You won’t believe how hard it was for me to do that but I did, even when I saw that bitch Rima hit on him constantly.
I spent the whole of last week agonizing that he would end up with her after all…she is so slim, that horny bitch! Only 62 kilos! And I’ve been trying to lose the extra seven pounds from my big fat ass for so long with no avail…The trainer told me that for my height of 5’4”, I need to be only 58 kilos! Damn! You should have seen that bitch smirk when she heard that!
Anyways, that blue halter top that you purchased for me on amazon looks too good on me. I wore it yesterday to the workout and by the end of the session I saw him checking me out in the mirror, clandestinely of course.
And Di, I was so full of confidence yesterday, that I didn’t even give an inkling that I was so aware of him standing right next to me at the water kiosk. Gosh, I thought I’d die of holding my breath for so long while keeping my face utterly devoid of expression! Hehe!
And I had barely made it out of the center when he called out to me, by my name! I hadn’t even been sure that such a gorgeous guy was even aware of my existence, let alone know my name but then…he did! Di, can u imagine?!
And it was all such a blur...all I remember was that he looked so stunning in that fitted red tee and black slacks…wow Di, his aftershave smells so sexy, it’s totally divine! And he invited me over to Coffee day tomorrow at 7!
I can barely sleep now although it is well past midnight…Di...what do I wear tomorrow?
Shall I wear those blue jeans that Ma bought for us last Christmas? Or that green jumpsuit that makes me look taller? Or would the purple halter with the plunging neckline do? No...That would make me appear too desperate or something, right?
Uff, what the hell am I supposed to wear on my first dream date, Di?
Wish u were here now…I know that’s not possible… and that’s why I’m sending this long email…damn! Damn, I wish u were here now, so u could’ve helped me with my makeup and hair too…
I know, I know…I won’t over do my makeup bcz like u said, guys like natural beauty over made up brainless dolls. Hehe!
Anyways, I can go on forever as usual but I’ve got practicals at 8 tomorrow, so I’d better try to catch my forty winks of beauty sleep.
Lotsa love, Neha.
***
17th February, 2017. 10.08 PM.

Hi Di!
The date was amaaazing!
He got me my favourite pastry, yes, the choco-latte one and a cappuccino too! He complimented my purple jumpsuit too, said it looked so classy on me…Di…if there is a heaven on earth, it was at Coffee day for me yesterday!
He was so casual and comfortable, when I was such a nervous wreck! (Although I think I did a rather decent job of cool nonchalance, Di, I deserve an Oscar for that!)
And guess what? He even invited me over to his friend’s place on Saturday evening. His friend is leaving to the States and they are throwing a goodbye party for him. Ashish wants me to go with him…WOW.
I’m over the moon, Di, I really am!
I’m gonna go shopping and I’ll send all the pics of my purchases to you…You’ll help me choose the right outfit like u did the last time, won’t you?
Love u sis!
BFN, Neha.
***
2nd July, 2017. 1.12 AM.

Hi di!
Sorry, sorry, sorry.
I’ve been unable to keep u updated of late…yeah I know you’re livid bcz I never called you, but I’ve been busy with special classes in college, Di..Sorry..I’ll call u tonite ..there is something I need to…discuss with you..
Ashish is …well..fine. You know, it’s hard to believe that it has been five months already since that day he asked me out to coffee day. 
I dunno di…things are not as they used to be initially…there is a nagging feeling at the pit of my tummy that something is really wrong Di..
I mean, he is generally attentive and sweet and charming and all that but, I dunno how to say this Di..
Well…u being my sis and all, I shdn’t be this shy, but Di, is it normal for a guy to not wanna kiss his gf even after so many months?
Di, doesn’t it mean that he probably likes someone else more than me?
Well, I'll call you tomorrow morning before college, okay? Or I’ll catch you on Skype too if u like..Please talk to me…I need to hear your voice...is it very cold there, where you are? I wonder…
Anyways will sleep now, Di. It’s very late.
Love,
Neha.
***
28th August, 2017. 8.07 PM.

Di! Sorry I missed calling you for so long. Don’t worry di..im okay
I m in my room, I was…well…I m sobbing so much that i cant talk to you or anyone else…
Di, I have been in such a shock all day that i can barely believe this is happening to me…its all so weird, really..
You remember how I’d told u last week that Ashish was avoiding me of late…well Di, ..I was sure that he has been seeing someone else behind my back. I suspected that bitch Rima, but then, my friend Vicky told me that Rima has been going steady with her old classmate from school...and yet, this nagging feeling that Ashish is hiding something from me wouldn’t go away..
And Di...I found out wat the hell was wrong. Last evening, in the gym.
I’d told him that I’d be missing the class bcz I had to complete my project, but then the last date for submission was postponed to next week, so I decided to go after all…
And guess what? He wasn’t there! I finished the session and was about to leave when there was a commotion at the end of the hall, where they have locker rooms for long term customers and I heard loud voices. I would have just left but I thought I heard his voice, in the melee...and of course ..my legs went over to the locker room on their own accord.
And Di...it was awful...so awful…Ashish was…he was half naked and the gym personnel were man handling him, accusing him of inappropriate behaviour in a public place!
Di…
i was so utterly humiliated, di! I was sure he had been makingg out with that bitch Rima, so I pushed myself into the crowd and went right up to the entrancce of the locker room, to see who he’d bin caught with…and Di...do u know what made it worse?
***
28th August, 2017. 8.57 PM.

Sorry…I can’t stop crying…so many typos in my last mail ..i know u will understand what ive typed…but Di..it was so horrible…do u know who was caught with him in the locker room?  Our gym instructor Di!
No, not that hot female who comes only on weekends, but the other one…
Di, the other one…the guy. Yeah, that man, that tall 52 year old bodybuilder, whose daughter was my batch-mate in PUC tuitions, the wiry one who wore pigtails with red ribbons to class…u remember her don’t u? Her dad is the gym instructor for the morning aerobics batches at our gym.
Di…I still can’t believe it! I dunno what is worse, that he wasn’t cheating on me with another girl after all, or the fact that he was a gay, but chose to string me along just to show the world that he was like everyone else!
No wonder he didn’t wanna kiss me all those times when we were alone! I know u told me he shdn’t be chatting on his phone on our dates, but Di, u never guessed the truth, not even once, did you?
I can’t type any more. I’ll try not to cry myself to sleep. U always told me to be a brave and strong girl, didn’t you? I’ll try, Di.
Bye.
Neha.
***
16th January, 2018. 9.02 PM.

Di, it has now been a year since you died in that freak accident. I know that you have never read my e-mails nor called me all these months, bcz, well, you have been dead all this while.
But then, Di…who else do I have in the world to share my life with? Ma has barely remembered to call me in all these months. Her new husband is keeping her well and truly occupied, enough to make her forget her only daughter who is still alive. I don’t wanna go back home these hols, I’d rather stay at the hostel instead of having to put up with Ma and that man for a whole two months. I’ve already spoken to the hostel warden about it.
I thought I’d marry that rascal Ashish one day, but then you know how that fake relationship turned out.
Doesn’t matter Di, I’m not alone. I’ve got you, haven’t I?
I know, I know…people would call me a crazy nut, if they knew that I still talk to you, but Di, I Do, I really do! All I need to do is hold the phone to my ear and I hear your sweet voice, telling me what to do, what to wear, what to say to people…
And I open your pic on my lappy, you know, it’s the same one you sent to me on the day before your car crash. And your smile reminds me of the way you smiled at me & everyone else on Skype.
Haha! Didi. Who says that dead people cannot stay on in our lives? That is so silly.
Didi, you still live on in my life bcz I’m never gonna let u die…
I’ve got you, I’ll always do.
Just as you’ve got me too. Always and forever.
Anyways, the latest news is, there’s this new guy in the Commerce department…I’ll tell u all about him tomorrow on Skype, okay?
Bye Di!
Love u forever and ever,
Your sis,
Neha.
*****

 Note: The inconsistencies and typing errors in the write-up are deliberate, in keeping with the mindset of the protagonist. 

Picture credits: Google images.




Friday, 18 May 2018

My Dark Pride - A Poem.

My Dark Pride.

Long legs and coffee. 
Worth a heart, do you agree? 
.

.
My fair lady, 
seriously?

You smirk & ask me
why I'm so happy
when I'm as dark as a bee?

I'm the color of coffee,
Do you see?

My brown skin is my pride & glee
a choco-coffee symphony

Warm chocolate is a delicacy
& hot, strong coffee is sexy

Your deathly-pale skin is ghastly
But your heart as I see,
is as dark as night can be...
.
.

Picture credit : Chethana Ramesh


Book Review 3 : Seize the Night, by Dean Koontz.

A Review.


‘There are no rules in the dark, no place to feel safe, no escape from the shadows. But to save the day, you must...Seize the Night.’

This is my second Koontz book. The first one was 'Fear nothing', the review of which I have already posted here. It ensured that I would never miss another Koontz book if I could help it.

The blurb further convinced me that I could not miss this one.  An enticing brilliance in the blend of fear for missing children, unknown secrets to unearth in the darkness of the night and unimaginable horror at the crux of the suspense…what more could a thriller lover like me ask for?

We return to Moonlight Bay, the hometown of Christopher Snow, where he urges himself to embrace the darkness, that his life is by ‘Seizing the night’.

Chris Snow is a different protagonist, as clich├ęd as that may seem. One feels sorry for his deadly predicament of having to live a lifetime without sunlight or light. The challenges faced by a person with a rare genetic disorder like XP or Xeroderman Pigmentosum, are articulated to perfection throughout the novel. It is hard to imagine or even empathize with such a person and makes one thankful for the little joys of life than we often take for granted, such as sunlight.

And yet, Snow aces it better than most people with normal faculties. Snow knows that the disappearance of his friend’s son and the other children is connected to the seemingly abandoned military base of Wyvern, where clandestine experiments were conducted by the military in the past. The police cannot be trusted as they are hand-in-glove with the people responsible. Worse, Orsen, his darling trusted canine friend disappears too in the premises of the dead town’s sordid centre. The added challenge of Chris’s fear and heartbreak touches more than one raw nerve.

Snow’s race against time, even as he fights chasing goons, escapes from violent groups of monkeys, and tries to outrun the breaking dawn, to avoid the monstrous carnage that may result otherwise, makes this book ‘unputdownable’.The tension that is built up over each turned page can be sliced with a knife.

443 pages of delicious suspense that keeps your grey cells ticking overtime, horror that makes the goose-bumps simmer on your skin, deep life lessons that stay with you, mind blowing descriptions that bring the scene alive in your head, wry humor that offers smiles, despite the hair-rising tension, artfully woven into even the most perilous scenes & of course, my most important criteria: top notch vocabulary make ‘Seize the Night’ impossible to put down.

By far the undisputed king of similes and metaphors, Koontz is the master at getting right under your skin and making ice cubes crawl right under each pore.

Pick this one if you are up for a terrific thrill ride.

***
 Excerpts :

We are the most alive & the closest to the meaning of our existence when we are most vulnerable, when experience has humbled us & cured the arrogance, which, like a form of deafness, prevents us from hearing the #lessons that the world teaches.
.
The worst thing I saw wasn't in the night, but inside my head.
.
I am my own worst enemy. This, more than any other trait, proves my fundamental humanity.
.
Nothing gives us #courage more readily than the desire to avoid looking like a damn fool.
.
#Friendship, #love & surf. Get them while they're still still hot, before they're gone, while you're still human enough to know how precious they are.
.
Cold comfort is better than none.
.
I cannot care too much about what I cannot change. Like all of us in this storm between life & death, I can wreak no great changes on the world, only small changes for the better, I hope, in the lives of those I love, which means that, to live, I must care, not about what I am, but about what I can become, not about the past but about the future.
.
#Patience. That is one of the great virtues God tries to teach us by refusing to show Himself in this world.

*** 


Picture Credit : Chethana Ramesh©